Presenting Harmony's silvers - sparkling lives, success stories, accounts of endurance, courage, grit and passion
Sandeep Katari, 51

One for the road

Author: admin

Classic and vintage cars are more than just beautiful vehicles for this collector—each one tells a precious story

Sandeep Katari has a reputation for rescuing old and battered beauties and putting the va-va-vroom back into them. The first vintage car he rejuvenated was the Hindustan 14, a car he bought in Delhi for a mere ₹ 4,500. “It was 1987 and it took me a year to get it into shape. I drove it for a year before I got a 1962 Fiat from Gujarat and later sold that too,” says our restorer, who studied law but did not pursue it as his heart was in refurbishing classic and vintage cars.

“I have restored many Rolls Royces, Cadillacs and Austins, mostly for clients,” says Delhi-based Katari, who when not hunting down spares is usually found in his workshop in Jaunapur village, Chattarpur, Delhi. He is currently working on three Rolls Royce cars from 1928, 1931 and 1930. “It could take anywhere between one to three years to restore these beauties.”

The unavailability of spare parts makes the going especially tough but Katari embraces the challenge as an adventure. “With the Hindustan 14, we did a lot of jugaad [improvisation] as many parts were not available and I didn’t have the budget to buy online from foreign websites.”

While he loves all the cars that have come into this life, his 1937 Buick is extra special. “It was in tatters, almost in pieces, barely recognisable as a car. It came from a client in Bihar.” It took him a year-and-a-half to put it back together. Then, there was a carriage-like car, a Bow Top Wagon from 1816 that was displayed at Auto Expo 2010. It belonged to a client who had got it in Gujarat. “These cars travel just a few kilometres on fuel, so it’s only for show. They don’t have much power,” he remarks.

There are not many mechanics that can do this work, he tells us. Luckily for him, his mechanic has been with him for years. “Old cars have wooden interiors and I personally handle the interiors and styling,” says the quirky restorer, whose fleet of vintage vehicles includes many two-wheelers including a 1926 Harley Davidson and a 1954 Lambretta scooter; as well as a 1918 Fiat that has only three doors—the driver’s side is closed as it holds a stepney—and whose bonnet opens with a latch.

For Katari, every classic car presents a chance to learn something. He mentions a 1928 Ford ‘Doli’ that was part of the Cartier show in Delhi in 2014. More a carriage than a car, it harks back to an era when women were not seen in public. “It was used to take the bride to the bridegroom’s place during a wedding. The women were taken in carriages where they could look out but the public could not look in,” he says.

Earlier, Katari would go to old markets everywhere to collect automobiles and spares. But now, he’s been in the business for so long, that things come to him. All sorts of things. With a flourish, Katari ushers us into his ‘hideout’—a three-storey building in Jaunapur that houses hat can only be described as a crazy collection. What started as a hobby collecting headlights, bumpers, number plates and logos, went on to include music boxes, chairs, tables, old photographs, grandfather clocks, newspaper clippings dating back to the 1790s and even a microlight airplane! “I sold my car accessory business in Vasant Kunj to set up this space and have rented space for my workshop,” reveals the unstoppable Katari.

—Ambica Gulati

Photos: Himanshu Kumar
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
October 2018